Gallagher confident misfiring Donegal will find their range
The final whistle went but the recriminations continued after Joe McQuillan punctuated the latest instalment of this spiteful conflict and summoned them to do it all over again next weekend - same place, same time.
Donegal 1-11 Monaghan 0-14
Monaghan players and officials wanted to register their feelings to McQuillan, but a Donegal county board official attempted to 'shoo' them away. A few more pulls and drags were required before both sides went into their huddles to vow that things would be different in the replay.
For Donegal, their failings came with three Michael Murphy frees that sailed wide, and two that dropped short. That doesn't happen often and most likely won't the next day. Most peculiar, momma.
"I'd say pressure was a big part of it," said Donegal manager Rory Gallagher on those misses.
Asked if the misfiring, which also included a fairly straightforward free for Paddy McBrearty, caused him some anxiety, he joked; "I was, yeah, I was thinking about putting on the boots myself! Naw, definitely disappointing but we showed great character and those boys are going to have days like that. I wouldn't fancy them to have many more."
Monaghan also have their comforts. In the third quarter they had assumed total control of this game, that is until a superb Odhrán MacNiallais goal was drilled low past Rory Beggan.
But when MacNiallais' goal was forensically-examined by Peter Canavan in the Sky studios, he wasn't afraid to point out that the Gweedore man was ghosting into space with his marker Fintan Kelly for company, just as Ciaran Gillespie took Kelly out of the equation by dragging him to the ground. Unhindered as he received the ball, MacNiallais put it away.
Only for that…
As it turned out, Monaghan had to extricate themselves by scoring three of the last four points, two of them from distance, under pressure from the crowd, the opposition and a galloping Donegal selector Maxi Curran - who may have clocked up more kilometres on the pitch than some players - to give us another blood-and-guts Ulster encounter. Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke summed up the frantic closing phases. when a late tackle from Anthony Thompson resulted in the final free for McManus to float over and tie up matters.
"When you're two points down going into injury-time you are always on the back-foot a wee bit but in fairness, knowing the boys and having seen them before when we've been in them positions they never give in.
"Secondly, we didn't panic. We know we just have to keep playing and don't be rushing things at all and we worked a couple of scores and were delighted with that."
He also questioned if the whistle was blown a little too frequently for Donegal: "I thought a few of the frees they got that seemed innocuous enough to me but again maybe that's the way I see it whereas I thought we had to fight a little bit harder for frees, particularly in the first half. But overall, to concede that amount of scoreable frees is an area we have to look at."
In keeping with the theme that nothing separates these two, it was all square at half-time on 0-6 each. Both slung runs of three consecutive points together. The usual match-ups occurred, including the long-running saga of Michael Murphy and Vinny Corey. An incredible statistic, but only in this fourth meeting of the pair has Murphy registered a point from play.
Naturally, things were tetchy. At the interval, Murphy and Corey even had a little nibble at each other and after Donegal emerged for the second half, Monaghan poured themselves another cup of tea and let them stew on the pitch for a little while.
When they were realistic All-Ireland contenders, their third-quarter performances were Donegal's hallmark. Monaghan reversed that. After a Murphy free gave Donegal the lead, Owen Duffy burned past Karl Lacey to fist over.
Donegal then spurned a goal chance. A series of intricate handpasses through the defence and debutant Ciaran Gillespie was in for goal until Beggan came sharply off his line to smother the attempt, leading to some half-hearted protestations about a foot-block.
McManus then came on a loop at the edge of an attack to boom over from almost under the main stand to rapturous cheers. A Murphy free that dropped short ended with a Karl O'Connell point from the counter-attack and soon after, O'Connell had a second after a move that required huge patience and composure.
Still, Donegal threatened and Eoin McHugh put McBrearty in on goal, only for the Kilcar man to take an extra swivel for space and drive over the crossbar.
MacNiallais' goal arrived on cue, shortly after Donegal were reduced to 14 men. Martin McElhinney barrelled into Drew Wylie off the ball with two knees raised. This time, the incident was just too close for McQuillan to miss and he correctly awarded a black card for a third-man tackle. As McElhinney had been booked in the first half, no replacement was permitted.
Colin Walshe was the next to see black for a foul on Ryan McHugh as Donegal took control. They stretched their lead out to two when Ryan set up cousin Eoin for a fast-break point.
From that point on the game itself became carnage. Play-acting, simulation, officials on both sides misbehaving and Donegal for a time playing with an extra man to the fury of the Monaghan sideline.
The final play came from a combination of O'Connell and McManus and the execution of the free was perfection.
We go again, Saturday, Kingspan Breffni Park, 7pm.
SCORERS - Donegal: P McBrearty 0-5 (3f), O MacNiallais 1-0, M Murphy 0-3 (2f), E McHugh, K Lacey, C Toye 0-1 each. Monaghan: C McManus 0-8 (7f), K O'Connell, C McCarthy 0-2 each, S Carey, O Duffy 0-1 each.
DONEGAL - MA McGinley; P McGrath, E McGee, C Gillespie; E McHugh, F McGlynn, R McHugh; R Kavanagh, O Mac Niallais; K Lacey, M McElhinney, A Thompson; M O'Reilly, M Murphy, P McBrearty. Subs: M McHugh for McGlynn (65); C Toye for R Kavanagh (68); E Gallagher for M O'Reilly (70+6).
MONAGHAN - R Beggan; C Walshe, V Corey, D Wylie; K Duffy, R Wylie, D Hughes; K O'Connell, F Kelly; R McAnespie, O Duffy, S Carey; C McCarthy, K Hughes, C McManus. Subs: D Mone for D Wylie, D McKenna for McCarthy (both 58); C Boyle for Walshe (black card, 61); J McCarron for Carey (64); D Clerkin for McAnespie (70+2).
REF - Joe McQuillan (Cavan).